A car crash on a rainy Oregon highway in 1992 forever changed Nancy Gordon’s life, leaving her in chronic pain. She continued working as a licensed clinical social worker until 1998, and then closed her practice, unable to work due to debilitating pain from fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

“There were days when even getting out of bed was an exhausting experience,” Nancy says. “Pain medications only offered limited relief.”

In 1999, a friend piqued Nancy’s interest in a breed of hairless and shorthaired Mexican dog called a Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo, known for its body warmth. Although their body temperature is not higher than that of other dogs, their sparse fur makes Xolos feel like heating pads, radiating a cozy 102 degrees. Some people, especially those with musculoskeletal issues, are drawn to the breed for that reason. Nancy decided to get one.

She found a breeder, fell in love with a small brown, black and white puppy with a short coat, and named her Toaster. The little dog seemed eager to learn commands, so Nancy and Toaster enrolled in a two-year program in Southern California that trains assistance dogs.

By the end of the program, Toaster could respond to myriad commands, fetching credit cards, phones, mail and other items, and even helping Nancy put on her shoes or take off her sweater.

Nancy agreed to breed Toaster, and in 2002, Toaster had a litter. Nancy kept the runt, a puppy named Pink who has three legs due to knee-surgery complications. Pink was also trained as a service dog and, like Toaster, is a natural heating pad. 

“I have arthritis pain in my back and hips, and Pink likes to spoon with me at night,” Nancy says. “She knows instinctually when I’m in pain.”

Nancy, 58, now works to place Xolos with others who have joint and muscle pain through her nonprofit organization, Xolos for Chronic Pain Relief (X-CPR, pawsforcomfort.com), which she founded in 2008. To date, she has placed 16 dogs in homes, and helps owners through the first year with positive-reinforcement training through regular Skype sessions.

“It’s so rewarding to place a Xolo,” Nancy says. “I’ve seen people who have been bedridden and in pain who go on, with their dogs’ help, to feel better and live active lives.”